Milky Way Galaxy is Part of Massive Galactic Supercluster, Immense Heaven (VIDEO)

First Posted: Sep 04, 2014 07:01 AM EDT

Our Milky Way galaxy isn't alone. Astronomers have found that it's part of a newly identified and huge supercluster of galaxies, which have been dubbed "Laniakea," which means "immense heaven" in Hawaiian.

Superclusters are some of the largest structures in our universe. They are essentially made up of groups that contain dozens of galaxies, like our own Local Group. They also are made up of massive clusters that contain hundreds of galaxies. All of these are interconnected in a web of filaments; though these structures are interconnected, they have poorly defined boundaries.

"We have finally established the contours that define the supercluster of galaxies we can call home," said R. Brent Tully, the lead researcher of the new study, in a news release. "This is not unlike finding out for the first time that your hometown is actually part of much larger country that borders other nations."

To better evaluate large-scale galaxy structures, the scientists examined their impact on the motions of galaxies. A galaxy between structures, for example, will be caught in a gravitational tug-of-war. By examining the forces acting on this galaxy, researchers can better map the rest of the cosmic neighborhood. The scientists used the GBT and other radio telescopes to map the velocities of galaxies and then defined the region of space where each supercluster dominated.

So what did they find? It turns out the Milky Way resides in the outskirts of one of these superclusters. The Laniakea Supercluster is about 500 million light-years in diameter and contains the mass of one hundred million billion suns spread across 100,000 galaxies.

The findings may help researchers better understand our local galaxies and our own galaxy in turn. By mapping this supercluster, scientists can get a better sense of how galaxies interact, which could tell them a bit more about our universe.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

Want to learn more? Check out the video below, courtesy of Vimeo.

Laniakea Supercluster Preview from Daniel Pomarède on Vimeo.

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